Defeat to Leo Santa Cruz may have shattered Carl Frampton’s air of invincibility, but as he fixes his gaze across the featherweight landscape, Northern Ireland’s favourite son can still see a clear way back to boxing paradise.
Huge world title fights for the most prestigious belts, big-name scalps, and phenomenal purses, can all still be his – and they’re tantalisingly visible on the not-too-distant horizon.
Blocking the pathway to a return to major championship action is a hungry young Mexican by the name of Andres ‘The Jaguar’ Gutierrez. In this weekend’s WBC final eliminator, Belfast’s hero must safely negotiate an awkward 24-year-old obstacle.
Gutierrez arrives with a reputation for being a relentless front foot fighter that can bang. He has only lost one of 37 professional fights, and knows that Saturday night is realistically his golden ticket to the big time. There’s no way he’s come all this way to lie down for an easy payday.
He’s dangerous, but I wouldn’t be over-seduced by a superb looking 35-1-1 CV.
Most of Gutierrez’s fights have been domestic tear-ups against little known Latinos, and he has never fought outside of the American continent.
Operating thousands of miles away from his comfort zone, at a level he’s never come close to experiencing before, it’s a big ask for him to deliver an upset.
Although Gutierrez is to some degree an international man of mystery, former world super-flyweight champion Cristian Mijares does provide a genuine form guide. In truth it’s the only one we can cling to.
Mijares moved up a division or two to beat ‘The Jaguar’ on points just over a year ago; this after being comprehensively out-pointed by Leo Santa Cruz in a world super-bantamweight clash in 2014.
So put simply, the only man that’s beaten Gutierrez took a pasting from Santa Cruz, who is the equal of Carl Frampton.
This explains why the Jackal is rated a 1/25 favourite with Grosvenor Sport.
My only worry for Frampton is a dented ego.
He’s a sensitive guy that stewed for weeks on his disappointing loss in Las Vegas, and we’ve seen unbeaten fighters crumble on the back of a first chastening defeat before.
I don’t believe he’ll have lost his Mojo, but there has to be a slender element of doubt.
One factor that’s likely to over ride those concerns is a packed out SSE Arena in Belfast. Frampton hasn’t fought in his hometown for two and a half years, and will desperately want to put on a show for supporters who snapped up tickets to create a sell-out in minutes.
Once the 30-year-old former champion hears the roar of the crowd and feels their love, it should focus him nicely for the challenge in hand. He has to make it a happy homecoming.
Tactically the Mexican will be a tricky opponent because his reach is five inches longer, but the Tiger’s Bay star is smart enough to turn that into his own advantage against a boxer that’s clearly going to have limitations.
If he wins comprehensively – and I believe he’ll do so on points or via a late stoppage – then it will be game on for his renaissance.
WBC champ Gary Russell Jnr will have to take him on as a mandatory challenger, and the ‘Welsh Mayweather’ Lee Selby is also ready to put his IBF strap on the line too, in an all-Celtic match up that will capture the British public’s imagination.
By the time Leo Santa Cruz summons up the cojones to settle his 1-1 with Frampton in a classic trilogy decider in Belfast (it has to happen!) I don’t think it’s inconceivable that three or four featherweight belts will be on the line.
There was no shame in being defeated by an outstanding champion. Everybody has off nights.
In my opinion Carl Frampton is still the best boxer in the division.
To get the chance to prove it he just needs to skip past the Jaguar, and I believe he will.